Thursday, January 31, 2008

Drunkard History: Volume 2

How excited am I about this one? Sooo very excited. Jack Black is lovely as Ben Franklin, but I do think Michael Cera is far more advanced in the genre of drunken historical re-enactments, and his heart-rendering portrayal of Alexander Hamilton was electrifying. Yes. I'd say electrifying. You decide:

Last night me and Sarah V wrapped up the first season of "The Tudors", a very very (emphatically, very!) factual account of the lives and wives of King Henry VIII (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyer) and his court.

These bonding sessions allow us to both revisit our college days when we obsessed over a BBC series about King Hank, and allow us to learn about medieval life in general. Also, the actress who plays Anne Boleyn is so goddamn smug, and smirks so much that you can play drinking games to her smirks.

We learned a lot about history and stuff. From this remarkably informative program, we learned that:

--King Henry was hot when he was young, but not nearly as hot as that one dude in his court who totally looks like Chris Martin from Coldplay and had a homosexual affair with a young choir boy.

--Queen Catherine of Aragon, as portrayed in this show, does not curse "Oh Santa Maria!" nearly as much as she did when she was in that BBC series.

--Medieval lawyers had hipster hairdos and were very fashion forward. Also, hotter than King Henry.

--Consumption sucks. Especially when you can't find your husband to catch you as you fall over in a pool of your own blood vomit because he is busy banging a chambermaid.

--If you are royalty, not only do you have an audience when you do your banging, but you also have to have someone standing with a bucket while you masturbate.

--The plague is scary, but luckily you can ward it off with leeches or having lots of sex (i.e. "banging") to sweat it out.

--People did a lot of banging in medieval times. It was very "free love." Like the 60s, only with less drugs and more guillotines.

Anyways. We got to talking about "heresy" and Sarah V asked me if you can still get in trouble for it. I didn't think you could, but then I found this Wall St Journal article which claims that heresy is on the rise. (Look out--I hear the projected mutiny stats for 2007 will be just as surprising!)

In the article, a 71 year-old woman named Karolyn Caskey is cited on trespassing charges at a baptist church by her pastor. The real charge was more complicated than that though. Apparently she had questioned Pastor Burrick's authority when she firmly suggested that, as his congregation grew, he should hire a board of deacons to manage church affairs, as stated in the church's charter. He likened her suggestion to spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord." Caskey was a church member for 50 years, donated 10 percent of her pension to the church, and taught Sunday school. She was sent to the local jail.

Another case from earlier this month saw a pastor of a 6,ooo-member megachurch threatening to expel 74 congregants for "gossiping" unless they repented for suing the pastor for access to the church's financial records.

Over the last decade, more than 24 lawsuits have been brought against pastors by congregants on defamation charges. In 2003, a woman and her husband won suit against the Iowa Methodist conference and its superintendent after he publicly accused her of "spreading the spirit of Satan" by gossiping about him. Courts typically refuse to hear cases like this because churches are protected by the constitutional right to "free religious exercise."

I feel that the church has a bit too much constitutional protection under the law if it's that difficult to sue someone for publicly shaming and casting you out from, in many people's case, the only community you know. This inefficiency in legislating religion reminded me of a Robert Green Ingersoll quote I came across recently, which addresses the importance of a separation of church and state, but may just as well apply to the ways in which a pastor can feel "above the law":

Men who believe in the liberty of man, who are willing to die for the honor of their country, will be excluded from taking any part in the administration of its affairs. Such a provision would place the country under the feet of priests. To recognize a Deity in the organic law of our country would be the destruction of religious liberty. The God in the Constitution would have to be protected. There would be laws against blasphemy, laws against the publication of honest thoughts, laws against carrying books and papers in the mails in which this constitutional God should be attacked. Our land would be filled with theological spies, with religious eavesdroppers, and all the snakes and reptiles of the lowest natures, in this sunshine of religious authority, would uncoil and crawl.

It is proposed to acknowledge a God who is the lawful and rightful Governor of nations; the one who ordained the powers that be. If this God is really the Governor of nations, it is not necessary to acknowledge him in the Constitution. This would not add to his power. If he governs all nations now, he has always controlled the affairs of men.

Robert Green Ingersoll - “God in the Constitution”

Right on dude, right on.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

(Un)Happy 75th Anniversary Nazi Germany!

Today marks the anniversary of the rise of Adolph Hitler to the post of German Chancellor. The NYT takes a revealing look at the turmoil of a country grappling to form a positive national identity, and struggling with the politics of remembrance and redemption in modern Berlin.

To "celebrate" this day, view the end of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 film "The Great Dictator", a political satire about Hitler with a "Prince and the Pauper" theme. Chaplin plays the Hitler character and his twin, brazenly mocking the evils of fascism, and concluding with a universal cry for change. The end speech is one of the most powerful clarion calls for peace and humanity ever captured on film, and marked Chaplin's first "talkie":

Monday, January 28, 2008

Oh Charney, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways...

Sexual Harassment As A First Amendment Right

Today I'm going to write a news story that was passed along by a little PR birdie. My boss refused to let me write about it because someone in our other office already snagged it and I am BUMMED! So, basically...

Just last week, Los Angeles Superior Court decided that the sexual harassment and wrongful termination suit against American Apparel mogul Dov Charney will be settled outside of court, through an arbiter. Behind closed doors, sans standard judge and jury, the case will be the first ever tried in relation to a previous sexual harassment suit brought upon the frat boy antic-obsessed writers of "Friends."

In the 2002 suit brought against the popular series' writers, the female plaintiff described a "boys club" environment of simulated masturbation in cubicles, open discussion of sex involving actress' Cox and Aniston, and graphic sexual drawings passed around the office. The "Friends" case was dismissed after plaintiff Amaani Lyle's failed appeal attempt in 2006, on the grounds that the events were not directly targeting her (although she reported being grilled about her personal sex life by colleagues), and that the behavior was acceptable because it occurred in a "creative work environment" and was categorized as part of the "exchange of ideas."

Charney has cleverly hired lead counsel Adam Levine, a key player in the "Friends" suit, who will argue that the AA founder's behavior--including calling his employees sluts and whores--is a part of the marketing and advertisement dept's
creative process.

Apparently, the "Friends" ruling sets a fantastic precedent for Charney, who faces his fifth major sexual harassment suit.

Verified accounts of the handlebar-moustached 70s fashionista include countless charges of indecency including: holding meetings in his underwear, approaching women with nothing but a Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired sock to cover his penis, requesting that a female employee masturbate with him in his office, and telling an HR woman to hire young women he could have sex with, preferably Asian.

Every time Charney exploits a woman, God throws a bag of kittens off a cliff.

And then there was the 2005 Jane Magazine brouhaha, in which reporter Claudine Ko interviewed Charney as he masturbated several times and, at one point, calling in a female employee to perform fellatio. Below is an excerpt:

I asked him how he relaxed. Oral sex he says, settling into a chair behind a cloud of smoke. “I love it … I am a bit of a dirty guy, but people like that right now.”

Explaining exactly how the rest of the night unraveled is somewhat difficult. Let’s just say, the female employee helped him “put on a show” for me. I watched, trying to be objective, detached - sorta like a … war reporter?

Side note: this article successful convinced me not to: a)buy American Apparel anymore and b)never read Jane again.

According to an '05 BusinessWeek article, there were several employees who thought there was simply a general misconception about Dov, that such "harassment" was just a part of his quirky persona, but others held a different view. The magazine reports:

They told stories of senior managers who pursued sexual relationships with less senior colleagues and rewarded their favorites with promotions, company cars, and apartments. "It was a company built on lechery," says a former stock person. "I thought it was a male contemporary perspective on feminism, but it turns out to be just a gimmick," says another ex-employee.
In one of the most recent interviews with Charney, CNBC's Margaret Brennan reports that, off-air, her subject yelled a series of expletives at her during an investor conference by the mere mention of his sexual harassment lawsuit:
He yelled with pointed finger in my face (and I'm quoting) "I know dirty and I know clean and that was dirty!"
As Charney's professional behavior is called into question, another high-profile sexual harassment case that was filed in 2006 could get a similar verdict as a result of the "Friends" writers' success. In it, a former female employee of the "Maury Povich Show" slapped a $100 million suit against Povich and other employees alleging she was " run a gauntlet of sexually abusive and intimidating conduct," including "pos[ing] in sexually explicit positions," and exposing her breasts to be "photographed and shown" on the Maury Povich Show. This suit, much like the other sexual harassment cases, is sure to push for the First Amendment rights of the defendants.

Employment and labor lawyers across the country are watching the recent Charney case, as it could inject a host of constitutional complexities into the already-gray areas of sexual harassment policy.

My verdict: I'm a little torn about all of these cases. A side of me desperately wants to see Charney put behind bars or loose a great deal of money so that his politically-warped empire ultimately crumbles, but then again, I cannot wholeheartedly side with the women involved in any of these situations. In the cases of Charney and Pouvich: come on ladies, know the company you work for, and know you're signing away your self-respect as a feminist. In the "Friends" case, I am considerably torn because, while the plaintiff was not directly targeted, it's not as if a part of the "creative process" involved pornographic scenarios. Unless there's an alternative series of "Friends" that plays late night on Cinemax.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Disco Dancer" Covers: Good for Dance Music In General

So I've been flirting with a fleeting interest in the freaky tribal hip hop of M.I.A.'s last album, "Kala" ever since it came out in August, and I think I'm now officially hooked. Despite hearing she's a dull, lifeless performer, despite my first exposure to the gunfire rhythm section of "Paper Planes" (which kinda freaked me out to be honest), and despite all of the off-putting hype, she's grown on me like a fungus, like athlete's foot if I were indeed an athlete.

Her sound is all over the map in so many ways--geographically, sonically, lyrically---that to track its cultural origins seems as tedious as long division; the Observer did a great job of recapping her globe-trotting recording sessions, though.

And then there's the familiarity of some of the songs. Specifically "Jimmy", which I just discovered is actually a cover of the only Bollywood film I've ever viewed in its entirety, 1982's "The Disco Dancer." I won't pretend to know that I understood anything about that film, my friend Gabriel played host to a viewing a few years back and he could speak volumes on it, I'm sure. I do recall that it involved an electric guitar capable of emitting electric shocks to people, and that there was a thrilling world disco competition.

Also, the choreography of that film was just mind-blowing. I didn't realize that the human body was capable of purposefully producing a graceful, rhythmic epileptic fit, in such a way that it comes across as both sexy and demure.

Here's the video of the song "Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja" that inspired M.I.A.'s cover:

I LOOOVE M.I.A.'s cover, but I wish she'd actually dance to give proper justice to this song, instead of using a Shiva getup to hide her lack of moves. Apparently M.I.A. danced to this as a little girl in Sri Lanka to entertain party guests, it's a wonder why she didn't break them out here:

I'm really glad she covered this song though, allowing the world of Bollywood music to clandestinely seep into the Western mainstream of "urban" pop. I feel like America has been lacking in the dance music department for far too long, and if this can inspire dancing, I am very excited. On a related note, I've been dying to take Indian dance lessons ever since watching this film, this is the only place on the internets where I was able to track an instructor in all of San Francisco. Who's up for this in July?

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Power of Panties and Poems in Burma

I nominate Saw Wai as Burma's national poet. He wrote an eight-line "love poem" in a popular Burmese magazine that spells out, if read vertically, "Power crazy senior general Than Shwe." Shwe being the current junta leader--Wai of course was promptly arrested. Excerpts from the poem, entitled "February 14" include: "You have to be in love truly, madly, deeply and then you can call it real love." It ends with, "Millions of people who know how to love please clap your hands of gilded gold and laugh out loud." I love the tactic of crying out for people to love bravely, while, even braver yet, calling a tyrant out on his shit.

I also read about a women's rights group called "Panties for Peace" that has been sending and/or throwing their undies to Burmese Embassies all over the world since October because, apparently, Burmese leaders are afraid of ladies' underpants. They believe that undies will strip them of their power.

I have to admit, I see where these Burmese dudes are coming from. I mean, panties have been used to exert power for quite a while. Ever since ladies' underpants made the transition from dowdy bloomers to garments small and mobile enough to be thrown, women have been using them as weapons of mass distraction. Look at the king here, he just doesn't know what to do with himself after a lady in the audience threw her panties at him on stage. And how many infidelities have been exposed as a result of the misplaced (or purposefully placed) undergarment?

If you'd like to send your panties to Burmese leaders and take away their power too, find an embassy and send them a special gift. Here's the address to the Burmese Embassy in DC:


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Top Ten Worst Sunsets

Over the weekend I took _______(legal counsel has advised that I revise this statement) at a Schnitzel house and then went out for a night on the town. I highly recommend it. Although I do not recommend eating the hot German mustard. Everyone at my table did, and they kept saying, "Oh my god my brain is melting!" immediately drowning themselves in glass boots full of beer to ease the pain.

At some point my friend Andy K and I had a discussion. He was irritated that everyone was oohing and aahing the sunset earlier that day. He felt that sometimes the sunset is just not that great.

(Amendment: Sarah V claims that her distaste for sunsets pre-empted Andy K's. Geez you guys, is this really gonna be a great debate that I may never hear the end of? Typical.)

Here are my top 10 worst sunsets. Here you go Andy K AND Sarah V:

10. The autonomous community of Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, off the coast of Spain, has some seriously heinous sunsets. The man in this picture was having a perfectly mediocre day when all of a sudden...where'd the sun go? Why is this beach do dark and uninviting? Oh Christ where's my flask, he wonders.

9.This picture was taken in India. Himachal Pradesh, to be precise. Notice how gorgeous the Himalayas are here. Too bad the sunset had to take a big dump all over them. Yuck.

8. I'm not sure where this one came from, as it was found on some dude's blog--apparently he's got a sky fetish. I can only imagine this was shot from a greyhound bus in Centralia, Pennsylvania, just before the bloated vehicle was to sink below the earth into a perpetually burning coal mine.

7. Who cares where this sunset came from. It is uuu-gly! This sunset was not only beaten by the ugly stick; it plummeted from an ugly tree, repeatedly beaten by various ugly branches as it fell.

"Oooh, behold, I'm, like, the sun, and I'm just gonna hang here for a while and completely blind commuters as they shuffle through their miserable existence. Behold my power and majesty, I'm sooo awesome. "

And you wonder why people jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

5. So underwhelming I'm at a loss for words.

4. I'm sure this is a lovely pier--in the daytime! The cold, purple pastel hues make this beach look like a cesspool of infectious disease. If I had a nickel for every sea lion that must have vomited off this pier each day when the sun went down...

3. This picture looks like something painter Mark Rothko took when he was in community college and took an intro to photography class, not sure if the whole "art thing" was really for him. Damn it's ugly.

Another blogging gentleman named Ted Taylor shot this one. Hey Ted Taylor, the sky called, and it wants its disgusting mauve manifestation back so it won't be exploited on the internets.

1. ..........(Drum roll please!)

The worst sunset ever was shot in the Manitoba province of Canada! Somewhere along Lake Winnipeg people are being blinded by the site of this monstrosity on a daily basis. Let's all have a moment of silence, and show compassion for their pain.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Where were you at 2:18 pm on January 22, 2008?

Me, I was wiki-ing Heath Ledger of course. That dude died (RIP). And you know what? If that weren't traumatizing enough, I sat before the entry--which had been hacked--and viewed a picture of a massive cock and balls that was almost larger than life. The wikipolice were on the case, however. As soon as I refreshed my page, the cock and balls had miraculously vanished.

I'm really glad you can count on those wikifreaks to fight the good fight of perpetual editing open sourced digital information, but I doubt that if I made my own entry about The Great Heath Ledger Cock and Balls incident, it would not instantaneously be erased, much like my Hang Loose Hawaii entry.

Regardless, this will no doubt go down in my own personal history books as the day I saw The Great Heath Ledger Cock and Balls. My parents had their moment with the whole JFK thing. Let me have mine goddamn it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy MLK Day

If you don't have the day off like I do, your employer must be a racist. Look at this beautiful man--look at him! The soul, the compassion, the grace! My first blog post was about him and this holiday. I wrote it for a class while in London; I found some awesome quotes about the importance of this man. Go here.
Stuck Tune Syndrome

Ever since I saw the season finale of "Extras" a few weeks ago, I've developed a case of Stuck Tune Syndrome and can't get this damned Kate Bush song out of my head. And now, neither will you....bwahahahaha!

'Twas a very sad episode. Watching the character Maggie Jacobs (left) give up on her acting career, scrubbing bathrooms instead, trying to get a job at Car Phone Warehouse and, when told there weren't any jobs available, breaking down to proclaim, "I've wasted my life...I haven't done anything....I haven't been anywhere." And this song was in the background nearly the whole time.

Damn skippy I cried. And I know of a certain man who cried too, so don't judge.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Family History of the Hallinans

Since my most recent days have been spent confined to an office with an unsavory totalitarian IT department that must censor all things fun, I have developed a love for Wikipedia and whimsical, unwarranted research.

Above: Terrence

Today, as I informed my former journalism advisor Conn Hallinan, I have been stalking his family history.
Conn Hallinan is a very special mentor to me and several--perhaps nearly all of--his former students from UC Santa Cruz. He meets with me whenever I have a career crisis, and has been a guiding light for several of my peers who value him greatly. He gave profoundly inspiring lectures on the value of journalism that nearly brought me to tears in my college days, usually dispensed while dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, jeans and cowboy boots.
He very rarely gave me any positive comments on my articles for his classes, which I completely respected. He did for my college newspaper work--but rarely for class assignments. One positive critique was about a gonzo peice on the life of a student reporter, and one was a commentary on a Wall St Journal article that I wrote as Karl Marx. I hung those assignments on my wall for nearly a year.

Conn also happens to come from the most amazing family in San Francisco history, perhaps even the country.

While I don't have enough time today to list all of the baffling things this family has accomplished, I can quickly list some of my favorite tidbits about Conn's family:

Father: Vincent Hallinan

-Vincent was a San Francisco lawyer who once tried to sue the Roman Catholic Church for fraud, demanding that it prove the existence of heaven and hell.
-He received 140,000 votes as the Progressive Party candidate in the 1952 Presidential Elections. His wife ran his campaign as he sat in prison for contempt of court for defending a longshoreman union founder named Harry Bridges, who was facing charges of lying about being a communist.
-He referred to one prosecutor as the greatest incompetent "since Caligula made a consul of his horse," and he would settle in-court disputes with opposing lawyers outside the courthouse, claiming to have won 23 such fist fights.
-Later he was jailed for 18 months on tax evasion charges, where he became chairman of the inmates' council and fought for integration in the dining hall.
-He is in Ripley's Believe It Or Not! museum for playing on a rugby team at age 73.

Mother: Vivian Hallinan
-Vivian wrote an autobiography about the family, "My Wild Irish Rogues," in 1952. J.Edgar Hoover called it, "A flagrant employment of the Communist Party line, including references to racial discrimination and vicious attacks on the U.S. government."
-She once led an anti-Vietnam War demonstration of 5,000 women in DC,and headed the SF chapter of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
-At one point she began investing her husband's earnings into real estate, which helped her husband become a multi-millionaire. She also rented and sold homes to African Americans at a time when the civil rights movement wasn't quite felt in San Francisco.
-She opposed U.S. foreign policy in Central America, met with Fidel Castro, and was tear gassed in 1986--at age 77--during a protest in Chile against human rights abuses.
-The horse mouth of J.Edgar once called her marriage to Vincent: "A case of one warped personality marrying another."
Brothers: Terrence and Patrick Hallinan
-Terrence called himself a "gentleman farmer" and served as San Francisco's district attorney for eight years.
-In 1965 the California Bar Association rejected him, claiming he did not have "good moral character"--this was based upon several prior arrests of civil disobedience. In college he was beaten or arrested 16 times during civil rights demonstrations in both Mississippi and the Bay Area.
-In 1967 he took the CA Bar to the state Supreme Court and was granted acceptance.
-His boxing name is "Kayo."
-He was the only district attorney in California to openly endorse Prop 215 (legalizing medical marijuana), and wrote several letters to attorney generals nationwide to change discriminatory language in domestic violence statutes that don't protect same sex marriages.
-Patrick was a prominent defense lawyer and accomplished archaeologist. He was involved in a very scandalous, high profile drug smuggling case which had the DEA after him. There is a very juicy PBS Frontline transcript on it.
Conn and Other Hallinan Brothers
-Conn has three other brothers, but I can't dig anything up on them.
-His boxing name is "Ringo."
-Conn is an amazing person on a personal and professional level. He currently serves as a board member for the Concerned Listeners of KPFA, is a contributing writer to Foreign Policy in Focus, is writing a novel about Roman history, and continues to serve as a great influence to many aspiring writers.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bring me a donut, Ramses!

Quotes of those who did not know I was listening: Office Edition

The following are quotes by people in my office. If you were ever curious about the types of conversations journos have when we get together, overly-caffeinated and amped and getting giddy over trivial writing matters, well, it's some pretty profound shit:

"How does this sound: He went to it with a sprinter's kick."
--someone else: "Sprinters don't kick, they sprint."
"With a sprinter's sprint. No...that doesn't sound so good."

"Krispy Kreme's not a donut. It's a cake. With a hole."
--someone else, in a Charlton Heston voice, "Bring me a donut, Ramses!"

"You met Bill Clinton? Did he smell like fried chicken?"

"You just have to play like you go way back: Remember me? The Holiday Inn in Bairan? Don't worry, whatever happens in Dubai stays in Dubai."

"Do we have a loudspeaker?" (In booming, cupped voice) "I'm not wearing any underpants!"

(Same Charlton Heston impersonator, in Heston voice) "I like Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's true, yo is for real

According to a recent article in Duke University's American Speech, a new, gender-neutral pronoun has been discovered! Shout it from the rooftops! Yo is king! The English language has been rocked and you will never look at pronouns the same way again!

The intro to the study:

Elaine M. Stotko and Margaret Troyer
Johns Hopkins University

This article presents data collected on the use of yo in schools in Baltimore as a new third-person singular pronoun, as in Yo handin' out papers `She (the teacher) is handing out papers' and Peep yo `Look at him'. In the spring of 2004, a number of middle and high school teachers enrolled in a graduate linguistics class for teachers noted that their students at certain city schools were using yo in place of he or she. The authors collected spontaneous occurrences of the pronoun and then designed several writing activities and sentence judgment tasks. The tasks were administered to more than 200 students in two unrelated schools in Baltimore. It was clear from the results that students in these two schools use yo as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun, primarily in subject position. Limited follow-up was conducted in the spring of 2007.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Kerri Russell in Waitress

On Female Humor and Film

First off, I just want to give a little GO FUCK YOURSELF shout-out to Christopher Hitchens and Judd Apatow.

I've been watching a ridiculous amount of pregnancy-centric films lately. From Juno to Waitress, to--and this is what's gotten me all riled up--Knocked Up. In this post I'd like to use the recent "unwanted pregnancy" genre of film as a litmus test to see if, as Christopher Hitchens claims, women just aren't funny.

Everyone in the world (except for a handful of well-read, moderate feminists with kick-ass senses of humor) has told me Knocked Up was a really funny, really smart commentary on female/male relationships.

But I found Knocked Up, much like Superbad and the 40 Year Old Virgin, to be incredibly amateurish, with their half-baked plot lines and scatological junior high sensibilities. Apatow's like writer/director Noah Baumbach's illegitimate, retarded half-brother, basically. And boy, I'm sure he praises the day that idiots like the Farrelly Brothers paved the way with their base level of potty humor, nicely packaged in the romcom category and ready to be vomited up to the masses.

But unlike fleeting moments in Farrelly flicks, Apatow's films are wholeheartedly remiss of any charm, or even actors who are capable of memorizing lines. And unlike Baumbach's work, they delve into the complicated world of hetero relationships without an ounce of understanding of the female psyche. Even Knocked Up star Katherine Heigl didn't like Apatow's portrayal of women and found it sexist.

So while the rest of the world sings Apatow's praises, does this make mean I lack a sense of humor? Am I at odds with the comedic zeitgeist?

Oh pray tell, Mr. Hitchens, what's wrong with me?

I mean, I must be lacking a sense of wit--who wouldn't find barfing, derogatory use of the word vagina, women leaking menstrual blood, women who are overly hormonal due to the LIFE-GIVING PROCESS, men calling each other gay, 30-something men who like to play video games and make fart jokes just HILARIOUS?!

And who wouldn't think a story about a gorgeous blond bombshell with a high profile career who pursues a 23 year-old jobless, porn-obsessed stoner who is fat, humorless, intellectually-devoid, hairy and painfully unattractive and doesn't wear contraception and could have given her AIDS isn't incredibly funny?

I'm sorry, but I became incredibly depressed after watching Knocked Up the other day. Film critic Joe Queenan, writing for the Guardian, explains why a film like this can make a girl like me so sad:
The new genre of romantic comedies are not really upbeat, coming-of-age motion pictures about young male schmucks who are saved by the love of a good woman, but heart-rendering tragedies about beautiful young women who are doomed to spend the rest of their lives with juvenile, not especially good-looking dorks...Denby [of the New York Times] and a host of critics may have found Knocked Up "raucously funny"; I think women need to start their own film industry: this one isn't working.
The other point that Knocked Up seems to make is that women, even the ones who work in television, exist for no other reason than to help men grow up, if necessary by having babies. As Denby notes, this is an idea that has been kicking around since the early Renaissance, when Dante Alighieri frantically sought salvation through the ministrations of his beloved Beatrice: men need women to inspire them to the loftiest creative and moral heights; otherwise they will fail miserably. But unlike Rogen, at least Dante had a job.

...Along the way, there are a lot of jokes about bodily functions, a lot of dialogue that is explicitly contemptuous of women, and a lot of profanity. This is a film for teenage boys who dream of growing up to be teenage men.
Fortunately, I was delighted and uplifted to watch two films recently (Juno and Waitress), which astutely and hilariously portray women in instances of unwanted pregnancy who, for one reason or another, decide to bypass the abortion option (I don't take particular issue, like many other women, with the fact that abortion was not completely considered by the main characters in these films. If it was, it would cut away from the humor and turn off many viewers. And I'm sure it's scary for a filmmaker to be labeled pro-life or pro-choice).

Not only are these female-centric films deeply funny to watch, but you don't feel guilty by the laughter. There's just too much heart involved. And both Juno and Waitress were written by women, an anomaly in Hollywood to be sure.

Unlike the crap that so many male misogynist filmmakers try to pass off as comedy, female humor comes from the heart; it's more complex, and does not need to degrade the world of bodily functions, female body parts, our mothers, or cliched film references.

Watch these two films and compare them to the trash Apatow's been slinging. That's all I ask. Also, watch this music video/preview from Juno, it's just so good.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Propaganda Game

Hey kids, here's fun game you can try at home: which one of these videos is more convincing: Abercrombie and Fitch or the US National Guard? Which video makes you want to sign up the most?

This one (make sure mom and dad don't catch you watching this):

OR this one:

(Hint: there are only incorrect answers.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Anatomy of a Shitty Karl Rove Op-Ed

So yesterday Karl Rove (yes yes y'all, you know may know him as "MC Rove", that slick-ass mofo that brought the house DOWN during the White House Correspondents' Dinner last year) wrote an Op-Ed on why Hillary Clinton took New Hampshire.

First off, let's consider the source. Who in their right mind would publish this sorry excuse for an Op-Ed piece, on the same day allowing Sens. McCain and Lieberman to spew propaganda on how "The Surge Worked"? If you guessed the Murdoch St Journal you are correct my friends!

Let's dissect it, shall we:

Rove's thought bubble: Der der, gotta begin article with something that shows I read books. Yeah yeah, but who do I read? What's the hardest thing I read in high school? Der, I got it! Shakespeare!
What Rove wrote:
What would Shakespeare's Jack Cade say after the New Hampshire Democratic primary? Maybe the demagogue in "Henry VI" would call for the pollsters to be killed first, not the lawyers.
Rove's thought bubble: okay that's brilliant! I'm so hot right now, burnin up. Okay, next, insightful commentary on the election process. I don't need stats for this one, just a general status quo media theory generally undisputed by the masses. Der, polls! I'll write something about polls!

The dirty secret is it is hard to accurately poll a primary. The unpredictability of who will turn out and what the mix of voters will be makes polling a primary election like reading chicken entrails -- ugly, smelly and not very enlightening. Our media culture endows polls -- especially exit polls -- with scientific precision they simply don't have.
Rove's thought bubble: Wow! Lookit me! Not only a former Presidential adviser, but a media critic to boot! Ok ok, now for an incredibly generalized statement, using very cleverly-worded similes, to obscure the fact that I have no idea what the hell I'm talking about.

Sen. Hillary Clinton won working-class neighborhoods and less-affluent rural areas. Sen. Barack Obama won the college towns and the gentrified neighborhoods of more affluent communities. Put another way, Mrs. Clinton won the beer drinkers, Mr. Obama the white wine crowd. And there are more beer drinkers than wine swillers in the Democratic Party.
Rove's thought bubble: Damn I'm good. Now for commentary to make both Clinton and Obama look bad--but I gotta make Obama look worse, like the limousine liberal he is; he needs all the bad press I can dish out at this point--the future of PNAC is riding on it. the ABC debate on Saturday, when WMUR TV's Scott Spradling asked why voters were "hesitating on the likeability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more." Mrs. Clinton's self-deprecating response -- "Well, that hurts my feelings" -- was followed by a playful "But I'll try to go on." You couldn't help but smile. It reminded Democrats what they occasionally like about her. Then Mr. Obama followed with a needless and dismissive, "You're likable enough, Hillary." Her remarks helped wash away the memory of her angry replies to attacks at the debate's start. His trash talking was an unattractive carryover from his days playing pickup basketball at Harvard, and capped a mediocre night.
Rove's thought bubble: Yesss. That was more than on point, that was beyond the point and making points within points around points. I know, I'll add a little historical knowledge to my commentary. What does vitamin-starved mean? I don't know, but boy does it sound clever.

When it comes to making the case against Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama comes across as a vitamin-starved Adlai Stevenson. His rhetoric, while eloquent and moving at times, has been too often light as air.
Thought bubble: Okay, now to up the ante. What else can I say to make the Dem hopefuls sound like children? And how can I demean Hillary because she's a woman at the same time? I know...

The Democratic candidates left New Hampshire not liking each other. Mrs. Clinton, in particular, lets her feelings show. In her victory speech, as she listed her competitors, she put Mr. Obama at the tail end, behind Dennis Kucinich. Ouch! Mrs. Clinton is likely to win the Democratic beauty contest in Michigan on Jan. 15. But with no delegates at stake, it will have little impact.

The rest of the "Op-Ed" is used to express his knowledge of the electoral process. Way to go Rove, you know that it takes more delegates than states to make a win! You get an A+ in Political Science!

I Want To Help You Save Documents, Baby

You'll never think about Clippy the same way again, or "Old-Timey Barbers", or Jewish mothers if you listen to Gil's crank calls. But maybe that's not such a good thing, so maybe you should refrain from listening to this Upright Citizen's Brigade comedian call a phone sex operator and make her pretend she is that cartoon paper clip from Microsoft Word.

Thanks John W.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Beck's Debra

My friend Tessa recently discovered this song--one of my all-time favorites--called Debra. I remember friends describing this song to me long ago, which they had seen him perform live before it was ever recorded. Apparently Beck got down on his knees and said, "You make a grown man wanna cry" and launched into it. This is Tessa's description:

This is one of those songs that's like so good, and you're a little shocked that you've NEVER heard it before, because both the song, and yourself have been on the earth together since 1999 so it's insane that it's taken you 9 YEARS to finally listen to it and realize that you love it. And it also makes you feel a little uncool, like WHY hadn't you heard this album, or been at a party where this came on, until last night in your friend's living room? I love you, little blond man who likes to wear fringe.

Favorite lines:

I'll pick you up late at night after work
I said lady, Step inside my Hyundai
I'm gonna take up to Glendale
I'm gonna take you for a real good meal
'Cause when our eyes did meet
Girl, you know I was packing' heat
Ain't no use in wasting no time
Getting to know each other
You never do

When Beck sang to us in Santa Cruz a few years back, he said, ever-so-sincerely, "Y'all are great, you make wanna...oh make me wanna touch dolphins." And I definitely believed him.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Feeling Check: Today...Sick and All Grown Up

Feeling check: so today I feel really old and sick. A few nights ago I had a "coming of age," I suppose you could say. It was my volunteer night, a time when I get to visit a halfway home for homeless families and entertain the kids. Not like a clown or anything creepy; my time is usually spent doing Russian dances to Manu Chao, playing the ukelele, and getting them to sing Chinese nursery rhymes while playing finger symbols. There's usually one kid that takes a particular interest in me. They're usually very clever little shits, realizing that I just don't have it in me to discipline them and tell them to stop running around like mental patients and screaming at the top of their lungs. I'm perfectly content goofing off alongside them and acting completely oblivious to general rules.

So the other night there was Jonathan. He had the most amazing little smile, even with little white teeth eclipsed by remnants of chocolate. And he made every effort to impress me with his car collection--all five hot wheels that he stored in his pockets. During reading time, he requested that I be the one to read to him. So we sat at a little tykes dining room table with a book on sharks. I tried to make the multisyllabic species' names sound like easy words, but his interest was fading fast. He took the book from me and, at age four, "read" it to me instead.

"There are big sharks, mean sharks, ugly sharks that swim around," he said.

As he continued reading, a precocious toddler named Jessica stumbled near, wielding a fake doctor's bag. She slapped a fake cast on my wrist, put a stethoscope on my knee, and, leaning in real close, stuck an ear scope in my ear while coughing on me very loud and generously. I also recall her stealing one of Jonathan's hot wheels, only to put it in her mouth and hand it back to me as a gift.

Soon we were called back into the circle for more singing. The rug's outer edge is decorated with the alphabet, and the kids are usually told to choose a letter to sit on. Jonathan grabbed my hand and pulled me to the circle. There was a splatter design to fill the gap between the beginning and end of the alphabet. I tried to sit on a letter, but Jonathan barked, "Grown ups sit there!" He pointed to the splatter.

This is the first time I've been labeled a "grown up" and I really feel uncomfortable about it. Also, I'm really very sick for some reason.

Drunken History

U.S. History's just better when told by some drunk dude trying not to vomit, confusing Alexander Hamilton with George Hamilton. Also, I'd like to remember one of our Founding Fathers as a sweet little nerd like Michael Cera, rather than this prissy dude to the left.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

John Oliver's Bugle

There's been a deep, dark void in my heart for the Daily Show for a while now. The pit of sorrow is beyond words my friends. Fortunately, I've recently discovered John Oliver's podcast, The Bugle, an "audionewspaper" put out by the Times. In his most recent edition,Oliver comments on the Iowa caucus:

What better representative sample for one of the most multicultural nations on Earth than Iowa. The mood of the nation, set by less than 300,000 white, Protestant farmers?

It's a really personal form of politics...door to door campaigning...How badly do you want to be President? Will you sit through some 73 year-old man's diatribe against Mexicans and how the moon landing was faked, whilst pretending to like his wife's homemade corn muffins? Do you really want this job?

Many have fallen at this stage. Roosevelt once proclaimed a woman's homemade peach cobbler was like eating a decayed pigeon, before telling the lady where she could stick her vote. That took a lot of coming back from.

This edition, complete with hot pics, makes me feel like the Queen of Sheeba on a quad bike:

***UPDATE: As of Monday, Daily Show AND Colbert WERE back on the air, without writers, but still very very good! Yessssss.

Monday, January 07, 2008

And the Obituary of the Year Award Goes To

Ahem...drum roll please..

Count Gottfried von Bismark! Congratulations, Mekonhead!

(from The Telegraph, April 2007):

Count Gottfried von Bismarck, who was found dead on Monday aged 44, was a louche German aristocrat with a multi-faceted history as a pleasure-seeking heroin addict, hell-raising alcoholic, flamboyant waster and a reckless and extravagant host of homosexual orgies.

The great-great-grandson of Prince Otto, Germany's Iron Chancellor and architect of the modern German state, the young von Bismarck showed early promise as a brilliant scholar, but led an exotic life of gilded aimlessness that attracted the attention of the gossip columns from the moment he arrived in Oxford in 1983 and hosted a dinner at which the severed heads of two pigs were placed at either end of the table.

When not clad in the lederhosen of his homeland, he cultivated an air of sophisticated complexity by appearing in women's clothes, set off by lipstick and fishnet stockings. This aura of dangerous "glamour" charmed a large circle of friends and acquaintances drawn from the jeunesse dorée of the age; many of them knew him at Oxford, where he made friends such as Darius Guppy and Viscount Althorp and became an enthusiastic, rubber-clad member of the Piers Gaveston Society and the drink-fuelled Bullingdon and Loders clubs.

Von Bismarck's university career ended in catastrophe in June 1986, when his friend Olivia Channon was found dead on his bed, the victim of a drink and drugs overdose. Von Bismarck admitted that his role in the affair had brought disgrace on the family name; five years later he told friends that there were still people who would not speak to his parents on account of it, and who told his mother that she had "a rotten son".

In the reunified Germany, von Bismarck managed several telecoms businesses and, armed with a doctoral thesis on the East German telephone system, oversaw the sale of companies formerly owned by Communist East Germany to the private sector.

By the late 1990s von Bismarck was working for Telemonde, Kevin Maxwell's troubled telecoms firm based in America, with responsibility for developing the business in Germany; the company collapsed in 2002 with debts of £105 million. Von Bismarck eventually returned to London, where he became chairman of the investment company AIM Partners, dabbled in film production and promoted holidays to Uzbekistan.

Never concealing his homosexuality, von Bismarck continued to appear in public in various eccentric items of attire, including tall hats atop his
bald Mekon-like head. At parties he would appear in exotic designer frock coats with matching trousers and emblazoned with enormous logos. Flitting from table to table at fashionable London nightclubs, he was said to be as comfortable among wealthy Eurotrash as he was on formal occasions calling for black tie.

Although described personally as quiet and impeccably mannered, von Bismarck continued to live high on the hog, hosting riotous all-night parties for his (chiefly gay) friends at his £5 million flat off Sloane Square. It was at one such event, in August last year, that von Bismarck encountered tragedy for a second time when one of his male guests fell 60 ft to his death from the roof garden. While von Bismarck was not arrested, he was questioned as a witness and there were those who wondered - not, perhaps, without cause - whether he might be the victim of a family curse.

Gottfried Alexander Leopold Graf von Bismarck-Schonhausen was born on September 19 1962 in Brussels, the second son of Ferdinand, the 4th Prince Bismarck, whose own father had served in the German embassy in pre-war London until a feud with the ambassador, von Ribbentrop, ended his career.

As a talented young scholar, Gottfried had studied at what he described as "an aristocratic Borstal" in Switzerland and worked at the New York stock exchange before going up to Christ Church, Oxford.

Von Bismarck never fully recovered from the death in June 1986 of Olivia Channon, the striking 22-year-old daughter of Paul Channon (later Lord Kelvedon), then one of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet ministers.

To celebrate the end of their finals, von Bismarck and Olivia Channon had taken part in a drinking bout involving excessive amounts of champagne, Black Velvet and sherry before she overdosed on heroin. At the inquest her cousin, Sebastian Guinness, described how he and other revellers had repaired to von Bismarck's bottle-strewn rooms, where Olivia was found dead the following morning.

Von Bismarck himself was charged with possessing cocaine and amphetamine sulphate and was later treated at a £770-a-week addiction clinic in Surrey. Following Olivia Channon's funeral, at which he was said to have "wept like a child", von Bismarck was ordered home to the family castle near Hamburg by his father.

His removal from Oxford was so abrupt that he was not given time to settle his bills; Prince Ferdinand sent a servant who did the rounds of von Bismarck's favoured watering-holes, restaurants and his tailor bearing a chequebook.

The tabloids quoted words of repentance from von Bismarck himself - "My days of living it up are all over. This past week has just been too much" - but although he was reported to be leaving to finish his studies at a German university and eventually to enter German politics, in the event he was treated again for alcoholism at a German clinic.

He returned briefly to Oxford, where local magistrates fined him £80 for drug possession; he wiped away tears as his lawyer offered mitigation, pointing out that since the Channon affair von Bismarck had received a bad press in Germany.

Doubting whether he would be able to find work in his own country, von Bismarck was said to be planning to study at a university in Los Angeles while continuing to receive treatment for his drink problem. Olivia Channon's death, his barrister said, would prove to be a shadow over von Bismarck's head "probably for the rest of his life". So it proved.

He never married.

--This is bar none the most colorful obituary I've ever read, bless you Telegraph and your fabulously upper crust, ponce-ass readership. And thanks, Shawne, for passing this one along.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The mighty peanut, found here in its natural habitat.

Near Death Experiences

It's funny what they say about 'em. Your life "flashes before your eyes", or you reach some "deeper meaning" or "enlightenment" about the world around you. Your perspective shifts somehow, perhaps like the Earth turning on its axis--but in a sudden kind of way.

I just got the most beautiful email from a dear friend in Los Angeles. It was a group email, wishing everyone a Happy New Year. I didn't think it would be anything other than a standard well-wishing or greeting...until I got around to reading it. My friend had nearly lost her life, having lost control of her vehicle on the freeway and, flying across two lanes of traffic, wound up hitting the center divider.

She said she didn't have a moment of flashes or anything that comprehensive. All she could think about in that moment was how badly she didn't want to die. And how sad it would be not to see any of her loved ones again. In the end, she wanted her email to let everyone know that she had realized how foolish it was to take life, and the people in it, for granted. She had been depressed for the last few months, and her near-death experience had taught her not to waste time like that again.

Her email reminded me of another very special email I had received from my friend Irina, sent to me about eight years ago. I've purposefully saved it and reread it a few times. Irina M, then a philosophy major in Berkeley, was also an extraordinary painter and we acted in plays together in high school. In her email, she described--at great length--how quietly frantic she became on a flight, for no apparent reason, about the prospect of a crash. She explained how a collection of obsessive, instinctual feelings of doom manifested into an inner stillness and sublime sense of one's place in the universe. And it all started with a peanut:

I felt stillness, and I wondered if I was being prepared for death somehow. Everyone dies, I thought, and if there is any justice in this world then there must be more to it than this.

And in that moment I noticed a little peanut on the cushion on my left. Perhaps I had noticed it before, perhaps I had even thought something of it.

All I know is that the peanut, a broken bit of fat and protein of some imperfect whole, became the center of my little universe. There was something pathetically profound about its quiet asymmetry; lying there, not quite in the center, not quite facing forward. Its stillness provoked me to thought. How calm it seemed! Like it knew the answer before i could have formulated the question and it was fine--just fine. The answer must not have been too severe. And I knew that I could not move the peanut, because I would disturb a balance in life that might only be in my own mind. But even given that, the peanut was the key to the stasis I was in, if I moved it or touched it, something would happen to break the thin film holding me in and I would dissolve.

Of that I was sure. And for one brief moment I was audience to a great mysetery revealed--through an airline peanut!

Epilogue: The plane landed and I gave the peanut to the flight attendant along with my discarded bag of raisins and a small plastic cup with half melted ice cubes.

Here's to not taking anything for granted in life, especially peanuts.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Why I Love David Lynch with An Undying Passion

Poets' Corner

Old umbrella carcass
Awash in the gutter and left
Cold wetness can't rid yourself yet
Saved will to spend
and memories appear
ripe for the taking, without hesitating
all on a rainy day

Downed power lines
Communication ties
Broken and torn in the wind and the storm
All bets are off for the time
And yet hope
for a comfort or warmth like a youth
who was lost in the scuffle of thought

And it's dark
and the rain doesn't soothe like it should
Like a hand you would shake if it wasn't so fake
like a treacherous friend or a foe
But you laugh in the end
and forget and forget
All on a rainy day
Show Me Your Caucus

Congrats to the contenders. Especially to you Barack Obama (Sigh. Cue cartoon hearts pumping inside an imaginary thought bubble coming from my head).

I think Obama's articulate n shit, but I do worry. I worry about him stepping to Huckabee. I hear that man's one dimpled, mean ass mamajama.

The Associated Press reported that the Republican front runner, upon hearing of his new win, jet over to a New Hampshire subway station, where he was caught rapping over the beat to N.W.A.'s "F**k tha Police" on a Casio keyboard:

"F**k tha Caucus
Comin’ straight from Des Moines town
Cracka got it good cause my votes ain't goin down
And I got dimples and so caucus think
They have the authority to kill a minority
F**k tha Romney, cause I am the one
To put punk mother f**ker Guiliani on the run

If I ain't the next Prez throw me in jail
We could go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fuckin with me cause I'm the Huckster
With a little bit of gold and a wife like a dumpster

You'd rather see me in the pen
Than me and Lorenzo rolling in the Benzo
Beat the caucus outta shape
And when I'm finished, bring the yellow tape."

Yikes. Huckabee is for real y'all.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Random Updates

1. Day three of food poisoning: all systems go--I can manage to maneuver a bicycle sans projectile vomiting.

2. I am secretly protesting the false martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto. She ain't no saint--take it from her niece, who said so in the LA Times back in November.

3. If you thought Weezer was bad back in the day, don't buy the Rivers Cuomo home recordings, even if Pitchfork says it's good. I can imagine myself pulling a Christian Bale in "American Psycho"-style slashing to the tune of "Chess," just read the lyrics to know what I'm talking about.

4. The average Dutchman is now taller than the average American due to U.S. pollution. Also, cats have more sex because of global warming.

5. I just invented a new breakfast dish entitled "Grecian Surprise." Not because it contains Grecian Formula, but because it involves spanakopita.

6. The price of oil's reached over $100 per barrel today. Celebrate by watching "Who Killed the Electric Car?" and get real pissed.

7. Still trying to piece together just what happened during my Caribbean vacation. I'm not quite sure.